India To Begin Universal Healthcare in October

(July 17, 2012)

India is looking to follow in the United States’ footsteps in regards to universal health care. Earlier last week, India announced plans of spending close to five billion dollars to supply it’s citizens with free drugs. This program has been in the works for the past five years, and it is expected to begin this October.

Arun Panda, Ministry of Health joint secretary, said that this initiative “would be a giant step in vastly expanding the access to medicines.” This statement holds a lot of value, considering the fact that there are over 1.2 billion people who live in India.

India’s 29 states will contribute 66 billion rupees, or $1.19 billion, over the next five years, while the Congress will pay 200 billion rupees, or $3.63 billion.

One of the top Indian health ministry officials said this plan would be “game-changing,” and is set for formal approval next month, even though the universal health care plan has already received its first installment of 10 billion rupees from India’s Planning Commission for 2012-2013.

In addition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked the health ministry to set up a central procurement agency to obtain many drugs in bulk. Some political analysts speculate that this drug plan may flip Congress from recent corruption scandals, in addition to a rapidly declining economy, just in time for the 2014 general elections.

Head of the Public Health Foundation of India, K. Srinath Reddy says that “this [plan] starts us on the road to universal health care. It won’t happen overnight – it may be 10 or 15 years but we’re on our way.”

Reddy was instrumental in India’s proposed health care plan, chairing a high-level government panel which laid out the roadmap for this plan.

The scheme will also vastly benefit India’s generic pharmaceutical companies, as it will offer generics at a much cheaper and affordable price, which may, in effect, force the international pharmaceutical giants to profit drastically less money. India-based generic drug companies such as Ranbaxy, Dr. Reddy’s, and Cipla, on the other hand, are feeling an opposite effect, as universal health care would mean that every family in India would be entitled to these drugs, and not just the affluent families who can afford them.

It is estimated that 78 percent of spending health care is derived from Indians’ own pockets, which is ranked as one of the highest globally. In addition, 72 percent of health spending is allocated for drugs, and not treatment, so this plan will definitively reduce these figures.

The scheme will include 348 drugs, including anesthetics, anti-AIDS meds, anti-psychotic, steroid, anti-ulcer, cholesterol meds, as well as cancer medications.

By 2017, the health ministry is hoping that 52 percent of Indians, which is around 600 million people, will have access to this drug scheme.

The private government estimates that around 40 million Indians are forced into poverty annually because of these treatment costs, while others are forced to seek loans or sell assets to receive healthcare.  It seems as though Indian’s are welcoming of this plan, as many of the people who live there are too poor to afford medical treatment.

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